Ethics in Westworld

The following is the result of the fifth episode of Westworld. It was pretty good and I think it’s one of the most interesting series (Mr.Robot is pretty interesting too by the way) that’s being aired at the moment.

Westworld is about an artificial theme park that shares the same name. It’s roaming with androids (robots similar to humans). You can hardly separate them from the humans unless you shoot at them. Because ‘real’ people can’t get shot in Westworld. The androids are there to fulfill your every need, which is why they are also called hosts.

There was instant criticism on the fact that androids were being hurt and shot for pleasure. People would have a ‘need’ for this and because they couldn’t do this in the our real world (with equality and all) they have to do it there. Sort of the discussion about the ‘catharsis’ function video games would have.

In the second episode a new person is introduced to Westworld. The following thing is said:

– “This place is the answer to the question you’ve been asking yourself.” 

“What question”?

– “Who you really are”.

It’s almost like people can only find out who they really are, their true self and identity in a not so ‘real’ world like Westworld. A world without limits and rules. It’s like we can’t find out, who we really are now because we’re limited by the rules of society around us. Westworld looks like a state of nature. Not entirely but pretty close.

Wild West

There are a few unwritten rules or rather behavioral codes that make the fact the theme park is in the Wild West more logical. The social structures in the Wild West, were really different from how things are now. Especially the position of women. They were inferior to men, which is a reason android-women can for example get raped there.
The Wild West and its behavioral codes create a social climate where ‘real’ people can do whatever they want. If the artificial world was set in the future or present, after all kinds of feminist waves, I would expect there to be unwritten rules befitting that time and some things just wouldn’t be ‘accepted’ even in an artificial world.

Dehumanization

Westworld is a series on HBO. After Game of Thrones HBO is more than used to the sex and violence and Westworld is not different. But many say it’s a different situation and I couldn’t agree more.
With Game of Thrones there is sex and violence for its own sake but with Westworld they criticize the dehumanization of people by showing the effects it has, in flashbacks of traumatic experiences. The interesting part is that they aren’t ‘dehumanizing’ humans but androids. So it’s not really dehumanizing, is it?

Ethical questions like these often arise in the series. Questions that are interesting for our ‘real’ world. Because of developments on, for example virtual reality. Besides these ethical questions there are other questions like: what makes us human? Does dehumanizing androids dehumanize us? In other words, do you loose a bit of yourself when you dehumanize someone or something in an artificial world? And if you say we don’t loose a bit of our humanity when we play video games, is it the fact that you’re ‘really’ there and everything just looks and feels so very very real the thing that sets both situations apart?

Westworld is a pretty interesting series at the moment. And right now it feels like the arrival of this world brought a world of possibilities. Possibilities in storytelling but mostly the possibility to think about previously unimaginable situations.